To kids, Halloween is a fun night of costumes and collecting treats from houses up and down the streets. To parents, Halloween can mean something entirely different – piles of candy sitting around and weeks of constantly negotiating how much candy their children can eat.
"Halloween treats are full of sugar, and children should only have 3-6 teaspoons of sugar each day, which is 12-24 grams," says Juanita Montelongo Soto, registered dietitian with Children's Health℠ . "Sugar intake in children is a serious issue. It's leading to more and more children becoming obese or developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease."
Fortunately, there are many ways to celebrate Halloween without overloading on sugar. Montelongo shares her advice on limiting sweets without limiting fun.
1. Set limits on how much candy kids can eat.
"An average fun-size candy bar has 8.5 grams of sugar – nearly half a child's daily recommended sugar intake," shares Montelongo. "Eat just two pieces of fun-size candy and children have likely reached or exceeded their sugar intake for the day."
Montelongo recommends parents sit down with their children and discuss what the rules are on eating candy. "Set clear guidelines on how much candy your children can have, but allow them to select the candy," she says. "Maybe allow one or two pieces of candy each day out of the Halloween candy bucket, but let your child select the piece to eat."
Montelongo also reminds parents to steer clear of sugar-free candy. "Sugar-free candy does not mean it is calorie-free. Some candies that are sugar-free may have even more calories because the product typically has more fat."
2. Focus on fun this Halloween, not sugar.
"The first thing to remember about Halloween is to have fun," Montelongo says. "There are many activities that don't involve sugar."
Some fun, sugar-free Halloween activities include:
- Pumpkin carving
- Spooky treasure hunt
- Face painting
- Capture the ghost (instead of capture the flag)
- Pin the fangs on the vampire
"The list goes on for fun ways to celebrate the holiday," reminds Montelongo. "Any game or activity that keeps kids moving or encourages them to use their imagination – without focusing on sugary snacks – is a win in my book."
3. Encourage healthy eating with themed snacks and meals.
Believe it or not, holidays like Halloween are actually a great time to get kids to eat more healthy foods or encourage them to try foods they may not be willing to try at other times of the year. Head to the kitchen together and concoct some spooky, healthy snacks and meals together for a memorable holiday.
Montelongo recommends offering fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins to round out the occasional treat this Halloween.
"Have kids create a custom Halloween snack," she says. "Offer up a tray of grapes, string cheese, strawberries, kiwi, celery, carrots and other healthy options and let them 'play' with their food. Sneak a few new fruits and veggies on the tray and encourage them to try something they have not had before."
4. Offer low-sugar or non-food Halloween treats.
"Healthy treats, and even non-food treats, can be a fun surprise to trick-or-treaters," says Montelongo.
Instead of heading to the candy aisle, consider stocking up on the following for your neighborhood's superheroes, witches and ghosts:
- Bouncy balls
- Cheese sticks with ghost faces
- Clementines (draw faces for added fun!)
- Pretzel sticks
- Spider rings
- Temporary tattoos
- Themed bubbles
"Non-food Halloween treats are also a great way to include kids with food allergies," adds Montelongo.
5. Swap candy for small toys or prizes.
"Limit how much candy your kids eat by swapping out their trick-or-treat bounty with a small toy or prize," suggests Montelongo. "Talk to your kids ahead of time and let them know after one week, they can trade their candy in for a toy they've wanted, a new book or another small prize."
Other ways to get kids excited about turning in their candy include:
- Making a goody bag full of small prizes or non-food treats they get on Halloween night or the next day.
- Introducing the "Switch Witch" – a friendly witch who visits houses at night to trade candy for small toys.
"Halloween doesn't have to be celebrated with candy and sweets," says Montelongo. "There are a lot of great ways to celebrate the holiday, enjoy a few treats and still be healthy. Talk to kids about why it is important to not eat candy all day, every day. Involving your children empowers them to make lifelong healthy choices."
If you have questions or concerns about how you can help your family establish healthy eating habits, contact the Pediatric Endocrinology Program at Children's Health.
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